BEMIDJI -- A solution for Bemidji's homeless population is slowly gaining ground.
Beltrami County Commissioners heard an update on Center City Housing's proposed Bemidji area housing project during a work session Tuesday afternoon. Commissioners approved a portion of Center City Housing project at the regular board meeting following the work session.
Nancy Cashman with Duluth-based Center City Housing presented commissioners a timeline with a start of construction on a 60-unit building in 2016 and occupant leasing in the summer 2017. CCH is looking at site selection and will be meeting with the Bemidji City Council to discuss zoning of the former T Juan's building in the rail corridor area.
"If we get the funding, the building could start leasing up in summer of 2017," Cashman said.
Funding for the project has not yet been secured, however. Cashman said CCH will be applying to the Minnesota Housing Financing Agency and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines for capital funds in June. Both organizations would make a decision in October. Cashman said the company plans to ask for capital dollars from philanthropic donors such as the Blandin, Neilson and Northwest Minnesota foundations.
"I'm going to want to see a business plan that shows how you intend to run this thing, not that you're going to go out and look for philanthropic funding," said Commissioner Jim Lucachick.
Cashman identified Headwaters Regional Development Commission, Red Lake Reservation, Leech Lake Reservation, Beltrami County Housing and Redevelopment Authority as CCH's possible partners. Cashman reported verbal commitments from Red Lake and Leech Lake for operations funding from off-reservation housing funds. Vouchers are also anticipated to support operational costs.
"At this point, it's looking like Center City Housing will be the owner and manager of the building," Cashman said. CCH is looking at securing cash flow for 15 years before development can proceed. CCH plans to operate the building for 30 years, she said.
The CCH housing project planned for Bemidji would rely on state-funded Group Residential Housing beds. The GRH program provides supplemental income to people who are at risk of institutional placement or homelessness. In order for a person to qualify for GRH payments, the person must meet certain criteria including being aged, blind or older than 18 and disabled. GRH housing rates are paid to housing providers on behalf of an eligible person.
Cashman explained the base housing rate is currently $876 per month, which is adjusted annually based on changes made in the Federal Benefit Range of the Supplemental Security Income program.
As part of commissioners' consent agenda, Beltrami County Health and Human Services was authorized to formally commit 30 GRH beds to support the development of CCH's proposed 60-bed housing program that will support both chronic inebriates and low-income adults who meet federal guidelines.
Beltrami County Social Services Division Director Jeff Lind said Beltrami County will be working with St. Louis, Clearwater and Mahnomen counties to acquire enough GRH beds to support the CCH shelter.
"I understand the concern for chronic inebriates," said Commissioner Joe Vene. "But I hope you will not turn away people who are simply undomiciled, people that...are destitute and need housing."
Cashman explained the two-story building will include 60 units that will serve both chronic inebriates and single adults.
"The building will be two buildings under one roof, and one side will be 30 units for folks that are homeless and chronic alcoholics, chronic inebriates," Cashman said. "The other 30 units will be for single adults who are homeless who we expect will have significant mental health issues, they may or may not."
Many participants at CCH's current shelters receive general assistance, Social Security disability, veterans benefits or benefits from tribes, Cashman said. Those tenants are allowed to keep $94 of their money and the rest is applied toward their stay at the facility, up to $1,500, Cashman explained.
"Say someone has $600 for Social Security, they will be able to keep about $100 and $500 goes toward the cost of their stay and the GRH benefit will pay the rest," Cashman said.
Homeless single men and women pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. "It's just not free for people," Cashman said.
Cashman said program goals include reducing detox admissions, police contact and emergency room usage and increasing access to mainstream resources, long-term housing stability, health outcomes and family reunification. Cashman said detox services can cost $200 to $300 a day depending on the community.
The closest detox facility to Bemidji is Pine Manors in Nevis, a two-hour round trip drive. While the CCH property does not include a detox facility, Cashman said there have been conversations with the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment in Duluth.
"It fills a niche, a niche that I see, chronic inebriates," said Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin who attended Tuesday's board meeting. All sites CCH is considering fall within Bemidji city limits. CCH's homeless shelter is separate from an initiative by the Nameless Coalition for the Homeless, which is looking to establish a short-term homeless shelter before a permanent facility is in place.